Goals from Dundalk’s twin towers, Andy Boyle and Brian Gartland, gave the Lilywhites a crucial win in Tolka Park last Friday night as they did just enough to see off Shelbourne on a nervy evening in Drumcondra.
The Lilywhites set off at a blistering pace and led 2-0 after just 13 minutes of play but when Graham Gartland hauled Shels back into the game with a 74th minute goal they had to withstand a late barrage to leave Tolka Park with all three points.
The result leaves Stephen Kenny’s men firmly in the title hunt. Dundalk came into the game looking to go top of the League of Ireland Premier Division for the first time in over three years but St Patrick’s Athletic’s fantastic 4-0 win against Shamrock Rovers means that Kenny’s men are still a point behind the leaders with a game extra played.
Dundalk were boosted by the return of vice-captain Mark Rossiter who replaced John Sullivan at right-back. Airtricity Player of the Month for July, Pat Hoban, took his place in attack as Stephen Kenny named an otherwise unchanged line-up from the side that beat Shamrock Rovers 3-1 in the previous game.
Some of the travelling away support were still making their way to the Riverside stand when Dundalk took the lead after just 75 seconds.
It came from another well worked set-piece, a feature of recent games. Darren Meenan whipped in a corner from the right and Andy Boyle was there to thump a header past Lee Murphy to claim his first goal of the season and give Dundalk a dream start.
The Lilywhites’ electric opening to the game continued two minutes later when they were awarded a penalty after Stephen O’Donnell was upended in the penalty area by Graham Gartland.
The Shels centre-back received a yellow card from referee Padraigh Sutton but he was redeemed by his goalkeeper Murphy who made a fine stop to his right to push away John Dillon’s powerfully hit spot-kick.
Any notions that this would knock Dundalk out of their stride were quashed as the visitors pulled two goals clear in the 13th minute.
Meenan, for the 7th time this season, provided the artillery, dropping in another devilish corner from the right and Brian Gartland was on hand to power home his second goal in just four games for the club.
Both goals were carbon copies of Pat Hoban’s second goal against Shamrock Rovers just seven days previously, in terms of creation and execution.
Shels were in disarray at this stage and Hoban held off two defenders to get a shot away as Dundalk looked to ram home their advantage.
Johnny McDonnell’s side eventually regained a foothold in the game but Peter Cherrie was largely redundant with shots from Stephen Hurley and Lee Murtagh posing no threat and Dundalk sailed comfortably into the half-time break good value for their two goal lead.
The second-half opened in much the same fashion as the first. Richie Towell saw a shot blocked after a powerful surge into the Shels penalty area and from the resulting corner, from Meenan of course, Hoban saw a header deflected over the top.
Meenan again delivered a great delivery from the set-piece but Gartland headed off target despite having plenty of time and space to pick his spot.
The home side looked bereft of imagination but they kept plugging away and almost forced a way back into it in the 58th minute only for the outstanding Gartland to stand firm and block Sean Brennan’s effort.
Meenan and Andy Boyle were next to throw their bodies on the line, both charging down two more shots from the former Drogheda United player.
Shels continued to build a head of steam and Cherrie was forced into a fabulous save in the 73rd minute, somehow getting his fingertips to a venomous half-volley from Brennan that looked destined for the top corner.
That looked to have repelled the Shelbourne wave of attacks but the Reds clawed their way back into when centre-back Graham Gartland turned the ball home from close range after Dundalk could only partially clear a Brennan corner.
That set up a tense finish for the visitors as Shels bombarded the Dundalk penalty area but Kenny’s men held on to claim another important three points.